In 1990 an album (one of 26 he released) called “Stolen Moments” had a huge impact on my life, and ever since then one of my goals was to have a chat with the gentleman who released that album from A&M Records: John Hiatt. Having tried many times when I saw he was supposed to be in Maine, I had pretty much given up hope of that bucket list interview, but when I found out he was supposed to be in the Waterville Opera on the 28th of this month, I gave him one last try, and today (June 15) he called me from Nashville where he was rehearsing with his band, The Goners, who will accompany him when he will ride in central Maine. It was a short conversation (about 10 minutes) so I decided to give you the whole ball of wax, so to speak…it started with him asking me a question.
Hiatt: So what’s so lucky about you, Lucky?
Q: I’m talking to you.
Hiatt: (Laughter) Well, that and five bucks could get you a cup of coffee!
Q: To begin with, have you ever performed at Waterville Opera before?
Hiatt: I’m not sure, it’s one of those places if I have one, I’ll remember it when I get there.
Q: It’s a great venue with great sound and a turn of the century look and feel.
Hiatt: I love these old theaters, a place where you can imagine Mark Twain doing his comedy routine. We played in a few venues where the management said, “Yeah, Mark Twain was there! and we were like, “Holy (deleted)!”
Q: I heard you were coming here with the Goners.
Q: Is this the prelude to another John Hiatt & The Goners album, perhaps?
Hiatt: Oh, who knows, Lucky? You said I was riding with The Goners, it’s more like we’re limping. We have two gallbladders between the four of us and other missing pieces, but we’re still alive (laughs), and we still know how to play. So yeah, I don’t know. I have new things, and I’ve thrown around different ideas. I’ve worked with the same manager Ken Levitan for 25 years and he’s a real creative guy, and we always talk about what we could do for the next project. He’s very good at not only coming up with ideas, but also letting me bounce off the ideas I have with him. That was one of the possibilities that came up in our discussion, so who knows.
Q: Now, one would assume that it would be difficult to establish a setlist in the face of all the songs you have written during your long career.
Hiatt: Well, it was pretty fun with last year’s project with Jerry Douglas and this year’s project. Last year my finder was looking for stuff that would lend itself to acoustics/sort of bluegrass tradition, so that was a goal. And then for this tour, I just decided, “You know, let’s just play some stuff that we recorded together.” So we’re going to make selections from “Slow Turning”, and we’re going to cover some songs from “Bring The Family”, but also “Tiki Bar is Open” – this record we made together in 2000 – as well as songs from ” Beneath This Gruff Exterior”, which we recorded in 2003. So that makes it easier for me; it drives other guys crazy, because I can create a mood.
Q: Yes, I have ‘Stolen Moments’ and ‘Beneath This Gruff Exterior’ in front of me now, those are the ones I gravitate towards the most.
Hiatt: With “Stolen Moments”, other than “Real Fine Love”, I don’t give the other songs much play, and I don’t know why. But we could pull off one or two.
Q: Is there anything, sir, you would like me to pass on to people reading this article?
Hiatt: Well I would just say if you like your music live and in person and raw from a bunch of (deleted) old timers who wouldn’t know how to influence them if it killed them but we’re pretty good to play bass, guitar and drums, so here you go! (Laugh)
Q: Oh, that reminds me of… (pause)… oh shit, at 73, my train of thought went off the rails!
Hiatt: (Laughs) I can dig it, man; I can dig!
Q: Well, I guess that’s it. I promised I would make it short.
Hiatt: Yeah, you know, we’re excited to come out, because we know from experience that our music really doesn’t live until we include an audience with it, because it takes an audience to make music in the end of the day. I mean, otherwise you just sit in your room playing. … Recording is one thing, but for us the reward has always been to go out and make music with an audience. We’ve always seen it that way.
Q: Oh, it’s back on the track!
Hiatt: (Laughter) Here it is.
Q: The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone and like you just said, it must be really awesome to be able to come back and do just that: have an audience.
Hiatt: It is indeed; it is indeed. Yes, sometimes I wonder if I lost more brain cells to alcohol and drug use in my youth or during the pandemic two years ago (laughs). It’s a jump-ball that one, I’ll tell you what!
Lucky Clark, winner of the 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” award, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.